Posted: 12:20 a.m.
BALTIMORE - It really can't be that bad.
"We can't move the ball. We can't get a first down," said a disgusted T.J. Houshmandzadeh after the worst offensive effort in the Marvin Lewis era. "We can't run. We can't throw."
And the Bengals certainly can't win with a once vaunted offensive line getting blown up at the point of attack on two utterly necessary fourth-down plays and countless of pass plays that pushed quarterback Carson Palmer into retreat during a 17-10 Opening Day loss without an offensive touchdown.
The team that had training camp T-shirts that said "Physical," got undressed by a Baltimore defense that bludgeoned it on two fourth-and-shorts and an offense that converted five smashing third-and-ones.
Lewis said it himself.
The Bengals' 154 total yards and eight first downs were lower than the 161 and 10, respectively, scrounged in the 2005 finale when they rested their starters for the playoffs.
How long ago does that seem?
"We've got to go back and start from scratch," Lewis said.
Discouraging because it was against a rookie quarterback (Delaware's Joe Flacco) and a rookie head coach (special teams guru John Harbaugh) in the kind of opener a six-year program is supposed to win.
"If you were allowed to bet," Houshmandzadeh said, "I would have bet a lot we would have won."
Discouraging, too, because the line had one of its worst days in front of its mentor, Willie Anderson, the newest Raven who watched from the sidelines on the inactive list.
"I loved Willie when he was here, but he's a Raven," said right guard Bobbie Williams. "After the game he was celebrating with them. That's just a fact of life. We have to get on with the season."
And daunting because if the offense doesn't get any better this season, when are the touchdowns going to come?
Tennessee, the foe for Sunday's Paul Brown Stadium opener, held powerful Jacksonville to 10 points in its opener. The Super Bowl champion Giants, the foe in two weeks, gave the Redskins seven. The Eagles allowed three and the Steelers yielded just 17.
It will have to start up front, where running back Chris Perry made his bell cow debut with 2.1 yards per his career-high 18 carries. The Ravens came blowing up the middle, particularly on the biggest plays of the game, a fourth-and-two from the Ravens 36 late in the third quarter and fourth-and-one from the Ravens 25 with about seven minutes left in a 17-10 game.
On the first one, the play call was the trusted shovel pass to running back Kenny Watson and outside linebacker Jarret Johnson played it as if he'd been in the huddle and came in untouched for no gain.
And what turned out to be Bengals' last offensive snap, that fourth-and-one from the 25, the Bengals saddled up with an extra tackle on the right side in Scott Kooistra next to the franchise player and Anderson heir apparent Stacy Andrews. But Ravens tackle Haloti Ngata knifed through the right side to drop Perry for a one-yard loss.
Ironically, Anderson probably would have been in the game next to Andrews at that point if he was still here.
"If it was up to me, I would go for it every time," Bobbie Williams said. "That's the pride and respect for this offensive line. We'll get it. We'll correct it. And we'll call for it again."
Palmer admitted he was shocked when it happened again to Perry.
"That's our bread and butter; that's what we want to do," he said. "We have big, physical offensive linemen, and [the Ravens] did a good job pinching the gaps and hitting us in the backfield. It feels like nine out of 10 times, it's a play that goes our way. ... Jarret Johnson made an unbelievable play when I believe it was fourth-and-two, the quick shovel pass that we ran. He looked like he knew it was coming. He played it like he knew it was coming. He just went straight for the tailback. Normally, that guy is a lot farther outside, so he did a good job reading the play and making the play and getting us off the field."
Anderson was the No. 1 suspect, with Houshmandzadeh observing, "Obviously with them having Willie, I'm sure he went over there and ran his mouth, but that's what he's supposed to do."
But Anderson pleaded innocent after the game.
"When did the Ravens defense ever need my help?" he asked. "I was shocked this week when I saw how well these guys prepare. I don't know anything about pass routes. But these guys are very unique. They just love football and study it all the time."
The Bengals gave up two sacks on the first series of the game and none after, but that's only because Palmer was running for his life. On many of his 25 passes if he didn't get hit in the pocket, he ran out and threw it away.
But his receivers didn't exactly get open, which did open up another debate besides the line play. Just how much has the absence Houshmandzadeh and Chad Ocho Cinco at voluntary camps and their injuries at training camp hurt this passing game? Palmer has been working with both of them for only the past week and it seemed like he had to put the ball down in the pocket and jet because no one was freed up.
"No, but you guys can write it," said Houshmandzadeh when asked if it was a factor.
Time for Palmer to be shocked again.
"That was a big play. T.J. nine out of 10 times catches that ball and takes the hit," Palmer said. "That's what he does. He's physical, as tough a guy as there is on the field [including] offensive linemen and defensive linemen. He's a receiver, and he's that guy on the field. Like I said, nine out of 10 times he makes that play. I think Ed Reed did a good job. He realized the ball was coming in, and it was unfortunate. That was at least three points, if not seven."
Houshmandzadeh, the team leader with just three catches, said linebacker Bart Scott made the play when he bumped him coming off the line of scrimmage.
"Bart Scott bodied me up and I stumbled out of my break," Houshmandzadeh said. "By the time I looked up, the ball was there and I let it get into (my body) and it went off my shoulder pad. Yeah, I should have had it."
Palmer and Lewis also weighed in on the preseason absences.
"I don't think that was a huge factor. It definitely would have been nice to have had everyone healthy, but we just needed to come out and play better," Palmer said. "We had some chances to have some bigger plays than what we actually ended up getting. But we're all veterans. We're all better than that, and we need to improve on what we did today."
Lewis: "I think it makes a little difference. They weren't sharp today as an offense. We've got to be better than that. But that's the way it is. Everybody has that. They have a couple guys on their defense that haven't played. That's what you've got to do. You've got to go play."
Lewis referred to a Ravens secondary that has been virtually iced all of this preseason. Particularly the two guys that badgered Houshmandzadeh on the pick, McAlister (knee) and safety Ed Reed (neck).
But one side was ready and the other wasn't.
Wide receiver Ocho Cinco, held to one catch for just the second time in the Lewis era, literally gave a thumbs up to Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.
Ocho Cinco was about as upbeat as he's ever been after a game where he was barely looked at and caught just one pass. He said his separated shoulder is 100 percent and "we'll be fine, we'll be fine ... you have to realize who we were playing."
"We just played the best defense in the league," Ocho said. "They don't allow you to throw. They don't allow you to run. When the opportunities come you have to make the most of them. With them, the opportunities are very slim, and we didn't take advantage."
The Ravens played Ocho much like they played Houshmandzadeh, which looked, at times, to be jamming him with a linebacker and a cornerback looming behind. Ocho thought his 22-yard play over the middle might have been the wrong coverage "because that was never there all day."
Ocho thought the Ravens were giving up the run and the tight end in their zeal to take away him and Houshmandzadeh, but the Bengals couldn't make them pay. In his first game as a Bengal, tight end Ben Utecht had a chance to make a big play on the first series of the second half. Palmer hit him in stride for a six-yard gain that would have been a first down at about midfield if he didn't drop it.
"I'm not sure what happened," Ocho Cinco said. "I know we got beat and the Ravens beat us in the basic fundamentals of football."
If anyone knew how they felt, it was Anderson, who experienced a few of those in his 181 games.
"It was a weird feeling. I felt happy for my new teammates, but I know how badly those guys felt," Anderson said. "I know how much preparation they put into it and how the goal was to be physical. I would never, ever gloat."
"It's a long season; it's early," said Anderson, who figures to play next week in Houston. "That's what Coach Harbaugh told us after the game. Enjoy it. But there's a long way to go. The Bengals will regroup."
But right now, they just want to remember how to score.